BOOK REVIEW / A better sort of tragedy: Juggling by Barbara Trapido - Hamish Hamilton pounds 9.99
Sunday 24 July 1994
Not that her material is in any sense lightweight. Juggling, like her three previous novels, treats serious topics - love, rejection, cruelty, power, violence, rape, death - with the seriousness they deserve, but without the portentousness to which we have become accustomed, even addicted. And although Trapido's vision of life is essentially comic, this is not a 'comic novel' any more than The Magic Flute is a comic opera, or A Comedy of Errors a comedy of errors.
Such comparisons are not gratuitous. Mozart's singspiel provided both a structural model and a complex series of references for Trapido's last novel, Temples of Delight; in this self-contained sequel, Shakespeare's comedies fulfil a similar function. The title puns on the Elizabethan sense of 'juggle': to play tricks so as to cheat or deceive somebody. Everyone in the novel does this to some extent, wittingly or not, as they try to juggle the details of their lives, keeping all the balls in the air, holding the pattern together.
The most daring and skilful juggler of all is Barbara Trapido herself, who puts her characters through dizzying permutations of gender, identity, background and relationships, both personal and genetic. The pace increases imperceptibly, creeping up on the reader, until what started as a fairly sober and straightforward study of generational conflicts ends in a pyrotechnic climax which exploits every Shakespearian device - identical twins, lost siblings, transposed parents, unlikely couples, outrageous coincidences and brazenly expedient plotting - to an extent which might have made even the Bard blush.
But there is more to Juggling than high-profile artifice, brilliantly achieved though it is. Barbara Trapido has a keen sense of the way power operates in every relationship, particularly those between the sexes, and an especially sensitive understanding of how this affects children. At the same time, she has no use for politically correct rules-of-thumb, or indeed any approach which produces a solution by simplistically redefining the problem. The novel ends happily because its mode is comedy, but we are left in no doubt about the complexity of the issues at stake, or the precariousness of the balance which has been achieved.
The result is a work of enormous charm, highly entertaining and told with a deft touch, which handles serious matters lightly and treats light ones with proper respect. As the heroine writes in an undergraduate essay on Shakespeare: 'The Tragedies are Tragedies and the Comedies are Tragedies. The Comedies are a better sort of tragedy because they make us laugh and because the characters stay alive. Survival is admirable.'
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
- 2 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
JK Rowling announces Harry Potter's son is starting at Hogwarts
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Common words you're probably misusing: From 'enormity' to 'ultimately', 'gambit' to 'fortuitous'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up